BL Walk 7.                Buxton to Chapel en le Frith

The Route:    Buxton station, Corbar Wood, Corbar Cross, Combs Moss, Combs Edge, Castle Naze, Bank Hall, Chapel station

Starting point:
       Buxton station. (G.R. SK 058737)

Distance:     6¼ miles (10 km)

Ascent:        1167 feet (356 metres)

Map:           OS outdoor Leisure No. 24, The White Peak

How to get there:  Daily train service to Buxton from Manchester and Stockport.  Daily train service from Chapel en le Frith to Manchester, Stockport and Buxton.     


Buxton Station

The Walk:    From the railway station go down the A53, passing the Palace Hotel and making sure you admire the recently restored semi circular fanlight window in the end wall of the station.  Time was when there was a matching version on the opposite side of the road but this was swept away when the Midland station closed and the new road was built.

Just beyond the Palace Hotel, turn right, up Devonshire Road, with the University buildings on your left. 

This building (The Dome) was originally built as stables, then converted into a hospital and now serves as part of the University of Derby.  It is worth going into the building if you have time.  The interior space is magnificent and the acoustics have to be heard to be believed.

Continue up Devonshire Road, and soon join the A5004, the road to Whaley Bridge via Long Hill (Manchester Road).  Continue up this road for about 500 yards (400 metres) to a signed path on your right, into Corbar Woods.  The path ascends steeply and with many a twist and turn,  through this delightful woodland, which is owned by the Buxton Civic Association.  Various paths lead off and the waymarking is not entirely clear, but provided you keep going upwards you will soon come to the top edge of the wood and there you’ll find a small gate leading out onto a steep open field.  On top of the hill is the Corbar Cross.  Go up the field, over a stile and scramble up the craggy top of the hill to reach the cross and the trig point.

Corbar Cross and trig point
Corbar Hill is not the highest point you reach on this walk but at 1,433 feet (437 m) it is a magnificent viewpoint, west, south and east.  The view north is blocked by the higher land of Combs Moss, and the view westwards in constrained somewhat by Axe Edge, the Cat and Fiddle and Shining Tor, but southwards and eastwards the view is very extensive, reaching right to the hills of the Upper Dove, the East Moors and to the Losehill-Mam Tor ridge.  On the summit of the hill stands Corbar Cross.  The original cross was given to the Roman Catholic church by the Duke of Devonshire in 1950 to commemorate Holy Year.  The cross was replaced in the 1980s but was cut down as a protest  in 2010 during the visit of Pope Bendict XVI to the UK.  The cross, a simple wooden structure, was replaced in May 2011.
Just to the right of the enclosure surrounding the cross, there is a stile in the wall and here you enter access land, though there’s no indication that this is so.  Go past the trig point and continue westwards  on a narrow path – little more than a sheep track, with good views to the left over Buxton and the hills towards the Cat and Fiddle.  The Long Hill road can be seen below the incipient crags.  The path reaches another stile beside Coldspring Plantation and then continues towards Moss House farm.

There are some very curious little enclosures in this field.  Some have steps leading down to a large open pipe; others have inspection covers in them.  There is also a series of huts containing overalls, rubber boots and other equipment that one might use for underground exploration.

As you approach the track leading to Moss House farm, bear right to a stile in the fence.  This ands you in a reedy, wet field, through which you pick your way on one of the various sheep tracks, crossing a small stream, and then heading up with the wall to your left.  As you top the rise you see, to your consternation, that there is another wall across your route and not only is there no obvious way through, but the wall is surmounted by twin strands of barbed wire.

Buxton and Axe Edge from Corbar
Photo by Martin Smith
It is a source of considerable annoyance that  so often despite land being designated as “open access” there is no free passage across it and no easy means of getting from one parcel of land to another .  So it is in this case. 

On reaching the cross wall, bear right.  In the corner of the field some considerate soul has leaned a metal barrier against the wall to assist you to get over.  On the far side you are in open moorland and there is an obvious path.  Go left, following the wall.

Just in case you were wondering whether there was an alternative way across this wall, the answer is, “No”.

You continue up, alongside the wall on a reasonable path, which certainly owes as much to cloven hoofed users as to booted walkers, until you reach a point where the wall turns sharp left and plunges downhill to skirt a small rock crag. 
You can see the former Roman road below you and at this point you are at 1635 feet (503 metres), the highest point on the walk.  Surprisingly, this also marks your entry into the National Park.  You may wonder why the moorland you have just walked on is not part of the Park as it is indistinguishable from what now faces you.  The suspicion is that, when the Park boundary was drawn in 1949, the inclusion of the rest of the moorland would have meant the inclusion of another local authority (Buxton Municipal Borough) on the Peak Park Board and that was deemed one authority too many.  Given that the whole moor is now part of High Peak Borough, perhaps it is time to revisit the National Park boundary at this point because it clearly makes no sense in landscape terms.  This point also marks the main English watershed.  Behind you, water flows to the Derwent, Trent and North Sea.  Ahead of you streams flow to the Mersey and the Irish Sea. 
A glance at the map would seem to indicate that you can cut across the moor at this point, roughly following the watershed and then picking up the path that runs along the intake wall on the north side of Combs Moss.  You can, but it is not recommended.  There are no paths, even of the sheep made variety; it is wet underfoot and a combination of tussock grass and deep heather makes progress tedious. What appear to be helpful marker stakes turn out to be merely feeding stations for grouse and not a waymarked route across.  Indeed they are downright misleading if used in this way.  Better by far to continue along the western edge of  Combs Moss, picking up the wall again when it returns from its downhill excursion and following it round the north-western end of the Moss, above White Hall outdoor pursuits centre.
As you turn eastwards the view stretches out over Combs, taking in the reservoir, (which was built to provide the Peak Forest canal with water), Eccles Pike and the hills beyond Chapel, Chinley and Hayfield.  Ahead of you marches the craggy north face of Combs Moss, stretching for over two miles to Castle Naze.

Coombs Edge
Photo by Martin Smith
An exhilarating walk now follows, keeping close to the wall all the time.  The path is obvious, but quite rough underfoot.  After about a mile, having crossed a significant stream leading down into Combs, you’ll spot a small building ahead.  Here the path becomes much more “engineered” as it skirts the main hut and then a smaller version before dipping to cross another stream.  The huts are used for shooting parties, but the smaller one is open and would be a shelter in inclement weather.
Beyond the stream, the path swings round a spur and then crosses another stream, on the far side of which is a line of shooting butts.  Once across this stream you are on a Landrover track, paved in places, which dips to cross a third stream and swings westwards to go down the clough to Allstone Lee.
Leave the track as it begins its descent of the clough and bear right up the bank side to reach the wall that runs along the top of the crags.  It is worth taking a retrospective look at the route you have come, because the crags are very impressive and were largely unnoticed whilst you were walking above them.

Keep on the left hand side of the wall, just above the crags.  The path is narrow and comes quite close to the edge in places, so some care is needed.  Continue on this path, round another spur and into Pyegreave Brook Clough, with its charming little waterfalls.  Still following the wall continue along Combs Edge, taking in the ever-changing view to your left, until you reach Castle Naze.

Castle Naze is the name given to the Iron Age hill fort overlooking Combs Reservoir and the village of Combs.  As will be readily apparent, the fort has natural defences on the northern and western sides as it sits on top of a craggy gritstone escarpment. To the south, the fort is defended by a double rampart.  Somewhat unusually, the fort is roughly triangular in shape, and surveys have indicated that it has had three main phases of construction, two in the Iron Age and one much later.  It covers an area of around 2¼ acres (0.9 hectares). As well as the hill fort, Castle Naze is also a noted rock climbing area.

Just before the wall swings decisively eastwards, there is a steep path descending to the left through a gap in the crags.  Go down this with care and thus reach a stile onto Cowlow Lane that leads from Combs to Dove Holes.

Castle Naze, Iron Age Hill Fort
Cross the road and go over a stile onto a grassy path that quickly leads you down to Bank Hall Farm.  Pass through what was once the farmyard and on to a tarmacked lane that soon leads you past the driveway to Bank Hall.  The lane now begins to descend rapidly.  Ignore any signs that say the road is private, because it is a pubic footpath, and continue down until you reach Bank Hall Lodge on your right, a splendid looking building.  The lane now swings left to pass underneath the railway, but a track goes straight on, again with a “Private” sign, but also with a footpath waymarker.  Go straight on here, along what was at one time, obviously a main driveway to Bank Hall.  At the end of this you join another track, the driveway to Ridge Hall and just to your left is the level crossing, which takes you on to Chapel station.  Take care if crossing the lines to the Buxton platform.

Chapel South Station
Photo by Martin Smith